When a mass murderer comes from you
The perpetrator of the mass shooting in Buffalo is from where I’m from. His town is about 13 miles south of where I grew up, just over the low hills that mark a sort of border between the rural-suburbs of Binghamton and the farmland areas.
How to describe the feeling when I read last night that he’s from where I’m from? Because it’s shocking, and also not surprising. I was just up visiting there at the end of March, and the countryside between my parents’ house and the Finger Lakes, for example, is littered with all kind of “FUCK BIDEN” and other MAGA signs and bumper stickers. At the bar in our little hamlet, a woman walked in with a t-shirt that said, “EVEN MY DOG HATES NANCY PELOSI.” These seem like straight-up electoral politics messages, but are actually dog whistles for white supremacist patriarchy. In Delaware County next door, where my dad grew up, a group has been fighting for years to ban sales of Confederate flags and other racist merchandise at the county fair. Men attempt to recruit my cousins to attend white supremacist biker gatherings. Binghamton was the NYS home of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, after they got ran out of New York City. If you’re one of those liberal types who likes to blame the South for American racism, come, let me show you around.
I mean the headline of this post to be somewhat literal— we’re from the same county— but also metaphorically. We, collectively, we, white people, are responsible for this young man. He comes from us.
I also want to interrupt any narratives about mental illness’s role in mass shootings right up front. There are a lot of things which can feel confusing or contrary that we need to be able to hold at the same time in our heads:
Only 3-5% of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness. People with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence themselves (ie, shot by police when 911 is called on them) than to perpetrate it.
Far stronger indicators of potential to commit violence, especially mass violence, is a history of domestic/intimate violence, particularly against women, deeply misogynist behavior, substance abuse and animal cruelty.
No one thinks that mass murderers are “sane,” but their psychopathy is much more related to anger than it is to specific illnesses or madness. From Dr. Laura Hayes: “Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly ‘break’ and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger.”
This young man felt so threatened at the perceived loss of power of white people that his anger took him to a Black neighborhood grocery store in Buffalo. Where I grew up, the narrative is not that a powerful clutch of wealthy white men have sold your jobs and your livelihoods down the river for extraordinary profits, it’s that Black and Brown people having a more equitable say in how things get done means you have less, and thus you are less. Equity is not pie— if some people have more, you don’t get less. But power is pie, and my neighbors have been lied to for centuries about where their lack of power stems from.
I am at a loss for how to continue or what to do now.
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